Young entrepreneur seeks to ‘freeup’ farmers

Agri-EPI Centre and Overbury Enterprises are working with a young entrepreneur and South Wales farmer’s son who has invented an innovative yet simple dial-reading tool which has the potential to save farmers significant time and money.

Tom McNamara

Tom McNamara demonstrating FreeUP

Tom McNamara’s device, called a ‘FreeUP’, can be mounted onto any kind of equipment or machinery to read and record their analogue dials, instantly making them ‘smart’.

Tom’s FreeUP is currently being tested on three farms including Overbury, which participates in Agri-EPI’s Satellite Farm programme. Tom has established his own company to develop and sell the FreeUP, and he is on the hunt for additional farms willing to take part in trials of the device.

Tom’s simple invention can read the value on any dial, as frequently as needed. Readings are recorded on a webpage and, if they move outside the parameters set by the operator, they will be notified via text message.

The ability to review the data gathered over time supports better informed decision-making. The data can also be exported for use in any other software.

Tom, who is also an academic researcher in farmer-led innovation, explained:

“It is not realistic for most farmers to replace their expensive analogue equipment with digitised versions. The FreeUP offers the solution by making any piece of equipment with a traditional dial ‘smart’. It doesn’t matter what the dial measures, when it was built, what brand it is – the FreeUP will automate it.”

After discussing the device with Agri-EPI Centre, Tom was invited to trial his FreeUP at Overbury Enterprises, where it is mounted on the water irrigation system. The FreeUP is also being trialled at Stackpole Farm in Pembrokeshire for monitoring water pressure in a bore pump and Cheshire’s Reaseheath College where it is being put to various uses in the milking parlour.

Overbury Farm Manager Jake Freestone said:

“Whilst irrigating, we use the FreeUP to monitor water pressure on the irrigation reel which alerts us to significant changes in pressure, allowing us to react quickly to any problems. We are now looking at other applications across the farm and estate.”

Agri-EPI’s Head of Farm Network, Gavin Dick said:

“We are keen to help Tom develop the FreeUP because it fits perfectly with our aim of helping farmers to gather and understand data simply and cost-effectively. It supports good decision making to help improve efficiency, productivity and profitability.”

Tom’s goals are to go on developing his FreeUP by trialling new farm applications, increasing the type of data it can gather and, of course, increasing sales. His overall ambition is to produce a suite of ‘FreeUP’ products in response to needs identified by farmers which automate tasks using simple and affordable equipment that ‘just works’.

Any farms interested in trialling the FreeUP can email Tom at or, for further information, visit


Global Business Innovation Programme to Canada

Are you an innovative SME working in the agri-tech sector?

Innovate UK are calling for UK based SMEs to apply for a one week Global Business Innovation Programme to Canada in 2020.

Dates for your diary

Closing date: Wednesday 11 December 2019

Briefing event: Wednesday 15 January 2020

Programme: Saturday 25 January 2020 – Saturday 1 February 2020

Post visit event: Wednesday 11 March 2020

Why should you apply?

The programme, which will run from Saturday 25 January – Saturday 1 February, aims to support research and development (R&D) collaborations between British and Canadian SMEs that operate in the agri-tech sector.

Successful applicants will be supported throughout the programme, and will receive bespoke one-to-one support from Enterprise Europe Network advisers to help them exploit the opportunity before, during and after the visit to Canada.

When in Canada

Delegates of the programme will be based in Alberta, the country’s prime beef production area that is open to opportunities for the adoption of new precision technologies for livestock production. They will also attend the Precision Agriculture Conference & Ag Technology Showcase in London, Ontario and the Guelph Agri-Food Cluster.

Apply now

Register here. Once registered, you will receive an eventbrite email invitation to the programme’s application form.

Need help?

Please do not hesitate to contact Rebecca Lewis, Agri-EPI Centre’s New Business & Proposals Manager, at if you need more information.

World-class agri-tech in Africa

Establishing trust between farmers and investors

GRID tool

An innovative digital farming system is helping to increase yields across thousands of hectares of farmland in southern Africa while also creating new jobs locally and in the UK.

AgSpace Agriculture’s new GRID system gives farmers access to the most advanced agricultural satellite mapping and analysis available, backed by independent agronomic advice. The information helps producers to make better management decisions and allows them to offer evidence of their crops’ performance to financial providers to gain access to credit and insurance.

Partners GRID

GRID was developed under a two-year European Space Agency-backed project involving AgSpace, Agri-EPI Centre and Rhiza. It is the first tool on the market specifically allowing farmers and financial providers to track crop performance.

There has been rapid uptake of the product following its launch earlier this year. It is now operational in nine African countries, and involves financial providers including Standard Bank. Further expansion is predicted to create up to 775 jobs between the UK and Africa by 2024.

AgSpace Director, Vince Gillingham, said:

“Some 80% of the African workforce makes a living from agriculture but many are crippled by a lack of access to financial products to develop their businesses. Price fluctuations for inputs and products, along with crop failure, due to pests, diseases, temperature or variable rainfall, hold the entire agricultural ecosystem back. 

“It is very difficult for credit providers to measure risk in the face of such variables without good data from farmers. GRID offers a precision data-driven opportunity for overcoming this barrier, giving providers the evidence and confidence they need to support farmers in increasing yields, growing their farms and ultimately contributing to wider economic development.”

GRID uses high resolution satellite data to monitor crop performance while providing local weather data for every farm on an hourly basis. It provides soil mapping and soil health monitoring, supports fertiliser planning for increased efficiency and higher yields and calculates yield predictions.

Farmers access agronomy advice by smart phone to improve production while financial providers use the same satellite data to monitor crop performance and build a clear picture of each farm, whatever its size and however remote.

Dave Ross, Agri-EPI Centre CEO said:

“We are delighted to have contributed to the emerging success of the GRID product. By using our company assets, including our database of high-resolution earth observation data, combined with analytics, this has enabled the optimal refinement of the system, which has now moved rapidly to a commercial offering. We are particularly pleased that Agri-EPI has assisted in the near-future prospect of up to 1000 jobs shared between the UK and Africa. This makes a valuable contribution from Agri-EPI input and continues to show evidence of world-class agri-tech solutions from the UK being exported around the globe.”

Francesco Feliciani, Head of the Commercial Applications Section of ESA, added:

“We are proud for having hosted the development and validation of the GRID service as part of our Integrated Applications Programme. We are convinced that GRID is a game changer in supporting farmers and associated financial services to understand the performance of farming businesses virtually everywhere in the world. This is key especially in times challenged by extreme weather events.

We have directly witnessed how the GRID service is used by farming companies in Africa, and we are fascinated by its capability to turn complex datasets and analytics into easy to understand information through a very intuitive and appealing user interface.”

More information

For further information about GRID, please download the GRID information brochure or contact Vincent Gillingham, AgSpace Director.


What are the KTN SPARK Awards?

Funding is provided to establish new collaborations and long-standing relationships between research partners – for example universities – and Small to Medium-sized (SME) businesses in the UK.

Funding opportunities

> Closing date: 1 November 2019

What is available?

£10,000 will be awarded to the research partner that will be working with the SME

What projects will be considered?

  • Livestock and aquaculture
  • Food and drink
  • Industry biotechnology
  • Plants and crops

Agri-EPI Centre can help you

Please contact Agri-EPI Centre’s New Business & Proposals Team if you would like to:

  • Use our satellite farm network to develop, test and trial
  • Access our research assets and facilities
  • Utilise our data
  • Use our people and expertise

For more information about this funding opportunity, and to apply, visit:

Roboscientific Wins Tesco Agri T-Jam and World Agri-Tech Pitch Day 2019



Pre-Summit Pitch Day Tesco


A UK agri-tech start-up beat over 100 international entrants to win the 2019 Tesco Agri T-Jam on Monday October 14, hosted in partnership with the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit.

The second annual Tesco Agri T-Jam and World Agri-Tech Pitch Day saw ten exciting agri-food start-ups present their ideas for improving supply chain efficiency and sustainability. For the first time, the Agri T-Jam was held at Tesco’s HQ and Heart Building, offering the entrepreneurs the opportunity to meet a variety of Tesco colleagues and supplier partners, as well as key investors from among the summit’s global audience.

Tesco’s Agri-Food team led the judging panel with Emmanuelle Lerges (Food Technical & Agriculture Director), Mark Suddaby (Category Director: Meat, Fish, Poultry), Natalie Smith (Head of Agriculture) and Jo Hickson (Head of Tesco Labs) joined by supply chain partner Branston’s Vee Gururajan (Innovations Director).

Winner Roboscientific

Roboscientific has developed a new generation of sensors for detecting disease, infestation and contamination in agricultural products using Volatile Organic Compounds.  The technology is fast, reliable and affordable and at the point of commercialisation for its automatic early disease detection system for growing broiler poultry and early alerts of spoilage in stored potato and onion crops.

Commenting on the winning selection, Tesco’s Emmanuelle Lerges said:

“We have to commend the high standard of the pitches and the different technologies that made it to the final, across a wide range of sectors. It made it very difficult to choose one winner, but in Roboscientific, we see a fantastic opportunity for long term collaboration, from reducing antibiotics and waste to disease identification and food safety improvements. We look forward to working with Ben and the team at Roboscientific on trialling and developing technology through our supply chain.”

Ben Curtis, Research Development Manager at Roboscientific:

“We’re shell-shocked and elated! It’s been a great experience and we look forward to working together with Tesco and its partners to improve food wastage and animal welfare within the food supply chain.”

Roboscientific will now benefit from introductions to Tesco’s supply chain partners, as well as ongoing support from the Tesco Agriculture team, the value of which was shared in an update from last year’s winner, ImpactVision. Roboscientific will also pitch to the full World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit as part of the start-up Technology Showcase on Wednesday October 16, showcasing its solution to an audience of more than 500 international agribusiness leaders and investors.

The remaining nine finalists will also join the summit: Acris Biotechnology (UK), Biosystems Engineering (UK), BlakBear (UK), CCm Technologies (UK), Faromatics (Spain), Metronome Technologies (UK), N2 Applied (Norway), Proteon Pharmaceuticals (Poland), and Smartbell (UK).

World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit Association Partner

Smartbell logo

Agri-EPI Centre member Smartbell

As you read this we are pleased to be an Association Partner at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit in London on 15-16 October. Renowned as the leading platform for new partnerships and business deals, we will be rubbing shoulders with international companies, investors, and start-up representatives. It is sure to generate some exciting opportunities.

One of our members; Smartbell, made it through to the final 10 to pitch their solution to the Tesco Agri T-Jam at the Innovation Summit. An animal health management platform, Smartbell’s real-time monitoring uses AI and the Internet of Things to improve disease detection and productivity. Although Smartbell did not go home with a win today, we warmly congratulate the Smartbell Team for making it to the top 10 entrants.

As Association Partner of the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit and the Tesco T-Jam, we will offer our members – early to mid-stage agri-tech start-ups in this case – also next year the opportunity to showcase their solutions that can help optimise Tesco’s ag supply chain.


More information

For more information on all finalists and the summit visit:

Agri-EPI at New Scientist Live

Together with Farmers Weekly, Agri-EPI Centre joined Agrimetrics, CIEL, CHAP and its partners GEA Group and RHIZA for the New Scientist Live festival in London today (10 October).


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